Evaluating Class Evaluations

Editorial written by James Baughn on Friday, May 11, 2001

from the one-size-fits-none dept.

At the end of every semester, students at SEMO fill out a series of class evalution forms for each class. The purpose, we're told, is to provide feedback to improve the quality of future classes.

But there's a major problem. The class evaluation forms often ask irrelevant questions that have little bearing on the course. Meanwhile, they don't offer other questions that would produce truly meaningful feedback.

In short, students should have the opportunity to evaluate the class evaluation forms along with their classes and professors.

This semester, students filled out a standard form called "IDEA" for each class, in addition to other forms. It's a one-size-fits-absolutely-no-one form that is little more than an exercise in wasting the carbon on your No. 2 pencil. The form contains a list of statements about the class and asks students whether they agree or disagree with them. For example:

  • "The class allowed the development of, and commitment to, personal values."
    [What exactly is that supposed to mean?]

  • "The class allowed the sharing of viewpoints and ideas of people from different backgrounds."
    [That's really going to happen in a math or computer science class.]

  • "The class allowed me to set goals which really challenged me."
    [The only goal most students care about is getting a good grade. Does that count?]

Students also filled out other forms in addition to the IDEA form, but these were often very similar -- and just as meaningless.

I would recommend that, if the college is truly interested in feedback that will improve the quality of instruction (that might be a big "if"), then students should be consulted about what items will be on the class evaluations.

(It might also be nice if the college made some of the results public instead of treating these forms as a big secret.)

Some questions I would like to see on the forms include:

  1. True/False: I had to hire an interpreter to understand the "English" spoken by the professor.

  2. Which method did the professor use to assign grades on tests and assignments?
    1. Random number generator
    2. Whatever grade I got on the first test, I got on everything else, leading me to believe the professor didn't actually grade anything beyond the first test.
    3. Whatever the professor felt like
    4. An objective scheme based on rational thinking. (I'm not kidding.)
    5. The weight of the paper: the more pages I turned in, the higher the grade, even if those pages contained nothing coherent.

  3. True/False: The professor returned my research paper with written comments like "This pper sux", "You're riting poor it is", "U should use the Writing Center your a bad riter", "This paper got lotsa grammertical and speling errorrs".

  4. True/False: I spent 40 hours working on the final project for the class, but got a poor grade because I mispelled a word or because I did something wrong that was extremely trivial.

  5. Which statement best matches the professor's teaching style?
    1. Spent the whole time reading the text on the PowerPoint slides s/he produced. Going to class was usually unnecessary because I could get the PowerPoint slides on the Internet and read through them in about 10 minutes while learning the same amount.
    2. Wrote lots of stuff on the board and then erased it before anybody in the class could copy down any notes.
    3. Rambled on about unimportant stuff during class and expected us to read and understand everything in the textbook for the test.
    4. Wrote lots of formal, mathematical proofs on the board that were technically accurate but didn't help one iota with learning and understanding.
    5. Repeated the same things over and over again, taking an hour to lecture on the material another professor could cover in 10 minutes.

  6. True/False: Everybody in the class missed a question on the test because the professor had told us something wrong during lecture, but the professor would never admit to the obvious mistake when everyone in the class complained.

  7. True/False: The professor put questions on the test over material s/he had earlier said was not very important and would therefore not be on the test.

  8. True/False: The professor put several pages of notes on the board, which everybody diligently copied down until their hands hurt, and then at the end of the class period the professor gave everyone a handout with the exact same notes which s/he had "accidentally forgotten" to hand out earlier.

  9. If you were in charge of personnel decisions, would you...
    1. Retain the professor for next semester
    2. Fire the professor
    3. Try to transfer the professor to some other unsuspecting college in another state

  10. True/False: The official course description accurately described what we actually covered in class.

  11. How easy was it to contact the professor outside of class?
    1. The professor was pretty good about checking e-mail, returning phone calls, and maintaining office hours.
    2. The professor gave out his e-mail address and phone number but nobody in the class ever reported success in contacting him/her.
    3. The professor claimed to have regular office hours but finding him often involved wild goose chases.

  12. True/False: The professor often lagged behind in returning tests and assignments because s/he "had too much other stuff to do", but I once caught him/her in his office working on a crossword puzzle or some other time-wasting activity when s/he should have been grading tests.